Tagged: duck

Ask not for whom the duck rolls

It rolls for thee. Did you know that the first LEGO toy, made in 1935, was made of wood, not plastic? Did you know it was not composed of wooden bricks but a single assembled piece? Did you know it was a duck? On wheels? It’s a fact.

Original LEGO Duck

These days, the original LEGO wooden duck is a rare collectors item. Even the 2011 plastic brick reissue of the ur-duck is fetching hundreds on eBay.

LEGO Duck Reissue 2011

Thanks to that photo and the conveniently countable lego bumps, I was able to create a decent simulation with parts from my LEGO Architecture Studio set  (best gift ever from Prof M) and some wheels off the mini Mini Cooper that came with it as a bonus. The Architecture Studio set contains only white bricks so it’s an albino duck. The eyes are the Mini’s tail lights.

Albino Duckroll

If you like your LEGO ducks more colorful, minimal and mass-produced, check out these LEGO duck producing robots made of LEGO bricks. Tres meta.

Also, this.

A cat, a pan, a canard, a plan

I’m sure you’ve all had moments like this, where you find yourself making duck l’orange for a cat even though the cat’s vegetarian owner won’t eat it.

It wasn’t just any night, of course.  It was professor M’s alpha cat’s birthday.  Cat I was turning 15, which is pretty venerable for a cat, not that she looks a day over ten.  She’s on a special diet and likes nothing more than duck.

So I bought some organic free range duck breast fillets from the freezer case at Whole Foods and whipped up a citrusy marinade.  I scored the skin and put the duck breasts skin side down in a pan of hot oil for five minutes or so, then turned them over for a bit and after pouring off most of the grease, transferred the pan to a 400 degree oven to finish.  Meanwhile, I reduced the marinade to a sauce and prof. M grilled up some vegetables.  (Note that when cooking for cats, you should reduce or eliminate onions and garlic, among other human foods that are bad for felines. In this case I served the cat the duck meat but not the sauce)  As soon as I started cooking, the cats perked up – living in a vegetarian household, they had probably never smelled such a thing.

Another citrusy canard Come and get it!

I plated one serving for myself and carefully diced up the other into two portions for the birthday cat and her younger housemate.  Secondary cat E sniffed his portion and wandered off.  He’s all about the processed food.  Cat I inhaled her portion and proceeded to gobble most of E’s as well.  I estimate on a body weight equivalence basis, her meal was akin to an average woman eating nearly 7 pounds of duck.

Duck l'orange; cat l'calico Hey, are you going to eat the rest of that?

I hope she’ll be able to go back to canned food.

Processing those food photos with Photoshop Elements

The last three posts were all about choosing the right digital camera for photographing food.  Despite that, we all know that what you do with the equipment is the important part.  Here, I present a pretty simple set of steps for making decent blogworthy photos from whatever camera you have.  Some steps refer specifically to features of Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 for Windows (currently in version 7 for Windows and some other version for Mac), which I recommend highly.  It’s not nearly as full-featured as the CS version, but it’s more than sufficient for our purposes, and it even has some convenient “auto” features not found in the professional product.  I have both, but use Elements almost exclusively for my blog photos.

Here’s a sample photo of a succulent duck leg from J’s kitchen with turnip puree, potato threads, onion strings, wild rice crispies, broccoli rabe and a veal sauce.  It’s fresh from the camera, unchanged except for resizing.

(A quick note on reszing: know how big in pixels you want your picture to be ahead of time, it’ll save you some hassle and grief.)

First thing I do is crop the photo.  Sometimes it was perfectly composed in the camera, but not often.  I’m a stickler for keeping the original aspect ratio, but that’s up to you.  Here it is cropped in just a bit.  This is also a good time to resize to your final desired dimensions.

Next, basic color and contrast correction.  If you really want to, you can adjust a lot of different things separately, but in Photoshop Elements, I usually just use “auto smart fix” which is sufficient in the majority of cases.  I’ll talk another time about advanced color repair for those candle-lit shots.

The change is subtle in this case, but you can see some change in the white of the plate and the green of the broccoli.  The next step is a little vague, but here is where I touch up anything that still looks off.  Sometimes this means using the clone stamp tool to eradicate a stray grain of rice.  In this case, I used the burn tool to darken some of the distracting elements in the upper background, notably that lemon.

Almost there.  The final step (and its important that this be the last step in most cases) is to use the Auto Sharpen function.  Just to be clear, photoshop cannot actually sharpen a blurry photo, it’s just an approximation.  But I use this even if the image is already sharp (which is rare with low-light hand-held pics) because it brings up the highlights in wet and juicy textures common in food.  See for yourself.

Got it?  Don’t worry, I’ll review some of the tools at the end.  Here are slices of the above photos for some side-by-side comparison.  The final result isn’t far from the original, but you shouldn’t have to do a lot of post work just to get servicable blog photos.

  1. Original photo
  2. Crop and resize
  3. Auto smart fix
  4. Touch ups
  5. Auto sharpen

That doesn’t look to hard, does it?  Here’s a screenshot showing the Enhance menu where most of the functions I refer to are located.

Good luck, and have fun with it!

Duck Duck EVOO

It’s not even officially duck season or rabbit season, but I keep ordering up delicious gamy dishes.

Tonight’s full moon found me at Somerville fave EVOO (that’s foodie talk for Extra Virgin Olive Oil) by random chance.  J brought a batch of peachy mamas for chef owner Peter McCarthy and we crunched on a couple before sitting down to dinner.  Don’t listen to her when she says they’re not hot.  They are hot.  Not in a terrible running for cover apocalyptic way, but they are hot. I’m just saying.

EVOO is probably the first really good restaurant I discovered about ten years ago when I lived in Somerville, just a few blocks away on Calvin Street.  They do a great job of using local and seasonal ingredients and the space always feels soothing.  I’m also a big sucker for the occasionally punny names for dishes, such as the Fried Green Monsters (softshell crabs with wasabi crust) and Duck Duck Goose, which I’ll describe shortly.

We started off with (note all the names of local providers) Verrill Farm’s Sweet Corn Bisque with Cilantro, Scallions and Lydia’s Pig Pancetta and Smoked Rabbit Confit, Eva’s Organic Wild Greens, Port Soaked Cherries and Toasted Pecan Salad with Shaved Vermont Cheddar and Grain Mustard – Rosemary Vinaigrette.  Peter had indicated that he still had a bushel of excellent sweet corn and he wasn’t blowing smoke.  The bisque was thick but not so finely milled as to be too smooth, and the pancetta and scallions added smoke and crunch in excellent proportion to the sweetness of the corn.

The Smoked Rabbit Confit salad – nuts on the side, thank you – was a blend of so many flavors and textures it’s hard to describe except to say that it was excellent.  We had barely made a dent in those starters when we received one more from the kitchen, a sort of antipasto with prosciutto, “special secret stash pickles” and super-creamy Hannahbells cheeses.

Note the EVOO on the cheese.  Nice touch!  But really, we all know I was there for one thing above all others. Duck Duck Goose: Duck Confit, Seared Hudson Valley Duck Foie Gras, Slices of Goose Breast, Lentils, Local Farmer’s Summer Beans, Verrill Farm’s Wilted Greens and Sherry – Ginger Sauce.

The photo obscures the lentils, crunchy yellow beans and greens, without which it would be unbearably rich.  Not that I wouldn’t bear it anyway, but still.  We also had a side of warm red beets,   The duck foie gras was delicate and expertly seared – I spread my part on some crusty house-made bread.  The goose breast was tender and rare, soaking up the sherry ginger sauce admirably. The duck confit was arguably the best part, with crispy skin and almost flaky salty meat inside.

It’s good to see that EVOO stil has it and still innovates while supporting locavorism in all its glory.

Open season

Last week I had a pleasant meal at Rendezvous in Central Square, a place that has reliably seasonal menus and art on the walls.  I was feeling a bit less than 100% so I chose the vegetable bollito misto (a Piedmontese boiled dinner, this one featuring polenta, fava beans, cheese and mushrooms) even though I was craving the Gascon duck three ways (grilled breast, confit leg and garlic sausage). I won’t regale you with all the details of the meal, but we also enjoyed grilled sardines with lemon and fried parsley, roast chicken with chanterelles, corn and green beans, and an impressive warm chocolate cake with cinnamon cream.

I was still thinking about the duck that got away – three ways, actually – when I stumbled upon an article in The Weekly Dig about the Fall game hunting seasons, complete with dates and recommended local dishes.

The Dig recommends EVOO, Rendezvous and Bokx 109 for duck dishes. Two down, one to go.  For rabbit, they suggest Marliave, Toro and the Publick House – I’m just one for three on those.  So I’ve got my work cut out.  If you want to take matters into your own hands, be sure to observe these dates:

Duck season: Wed 10.15.08–Sat 11.29.08 and Fri 12.12.08–Sat 1.03.09 (Berkshire); Tue 10.14.08–Sat 11.29.08 and Mon 12.15.08–Mon 1.05.09 (Central); Fri 10.17.08–Sat 10.25.08 and Wed 11.26.08–Sat 1.24.09 (Coastal)

Rabbit season: Sat 10.18.08–Sat 2.28.09 (cottontail); Sat 11.15.08–Wed 12.31.08 (jackrabbit); Sat 10.18.08–Thu 2.05.09 (snowshoe hare)

From this we can deduce that here in Eastern Massachusetts, from October 18 through 25 and November 26 through January 24, it’s both duck season and rabbit season, a time period during which it’s entirely possible to have a spirited argument about whether it’s rabbit season or duck season.  Have you figured out where this is leading yet?  Well, here it is.

Welcome to autumn, and happy hunting everybody.